Making Lasting Changes

It is often relatively easy to identify broad areas that you need to change – lose weight, exercise more, spend less, save more.  The real trick is to implement those changes, and not just for a week or two.

A good friend of mine who has been sober for 8 years often tells me – People are only motivated by two things – avoiding pain and finding pleasure.  Understanding this helps him find ways to stay sober and help others do the same.  I have a variation that I have used in training for years – “People will only change when the pain of staying the same exceeds that of changing.”

I often struggle with getting clients to make lasting changes.  For instance, one week after telling a client that they needed to go on a fiscal diet and stop spending money that was not generating income, I got the “I know you are going to yell at me, but, I just spent $2500 on my daughter” phone call.

The question is how do you make lasting changes?

#1  Accept that the responsibility rests solely with you.

Your business is not failing because of the economy, you made a series of mistakes that did not account for changes in the economy.  No one is making you take another bite of ice cream.  Salespeople can talk and even be ruthless, but at the end of the day, it is you that takes your credit card out of your wallet and gives them the number.  So until you are ready objectively listen to yourself and look at what needs changed with a clear head, NOTHING will change.  Listen to others for advice, because let’s face it, we are not special, hundreds of others have made the same mistakes we are just about to make.  Having said that, it is very important to understand why you make the decisions you do, what influences are at play and your biases.  But at the end of the day, the responsibility rests with you.  Make up your mind, set a path, and start walking.  Set some realistic goals and lay out a plan to achieve them.

#2 Change your processes

Automate the change whenever you can.  Set up a separate bank account and move 10% of your income into it every time you make a deposit.  Make it more difficult to spend money – leave your debit card at home.  Carry a set amount of cash so you cannot spend more than what you have.  Cut up credit cards.  Put cash into envelopes to cover a budget category.  Become a bad cook so you eat less.  All are tricks to change your habits.

#3 Change your focus

This is the most powerful Jedi mind trick in your arsenal.  Shift your focus to a pain point to avoid a habit or a pleasure point to create a new habit.

If you are on a diet, it is easy to be tempted by your favorite food – a big Mac, cake, bagels with cream cheese – there is always a temptation.  But if you shift your focus from “its only a few hundred calories” to “that is 70 minutes on the treadmill at 5 miles per hour”  you can reframe the narrative happening in your brain.  Same thing goes for changing financial habits.  Change the focus from the instant gratification of buying an expensive meal to the long term goal of retiring at 55 and you can make lasting changes.

Even subtle changes in focus can be extraordinary.  Years ago, a child I know was diagnosed with leukemia.  He is doing wonderful now, thanks to a bone marrow transplant from his brother.  At the time, the brother did not want to be the bone marrow donor, making it a very tough sell to a head strong 8 year old.  In his words, “I hate my brother”.  It took a while and a very talented therapist who uncovered that underlying issue was he did not want to be responsible if the bone marrow transplant failed.  In his mind, if the transplant didn’t work, it would be his fault, a very heavy burden for any child.  The therapist managed to shift his focus from hating his brother to hating cancer, and the best way to beat cancer was with him being the bone marrow donor.  By defining cancer as an entity separate from his brother, the therapist shifted the rage target 6 inches, just enough to turn the tide.  It worked beautifully and is a lesson that I will never forget.

Here is the bottom line:  making changes to your habits IS difficult.  Pay attention to the narrative in your head so you can shift the focus by adding a pain point to discourage a behavior or add a reward for reinforcing a behavior.  But stick to it.  It is worth it.

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